From Bishkek we flew to Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, to begin our two-week bicycle trip with Grasshopper Adventures. We especially looked forward to meeting up here with Jim’s sister Rebecca and our dear friend Luba. This trip was a 50th birthday present to Rebecca (though COVID postponements mean it didn’t happen until she was a bit older). And we’ve met up with Luba in several countries since first biking together on a Grasshopper journey in Japan in 2017.
But a funny thing happened as we were awaiting their arrival at the hotel where the group was meeting. I heard a shriek and felt a big hug from a woman I assumed was Luba. But no, it took me a second to realize it was Sharon. Yes, Sharon and Tony, our Australian friends from a 2018 Grasshopper tour in India, were here to do the Uzbekistan trip. Three years ago, when we first signed up for this trip, we’d encouraged them to join us but they weren’t able to. But this year they signed up, assuming we’d done it long ago.
With Rebecca, Luba, Tony, and Sharon on board we’re pretty confident this is going to be a great trip!
We spent the first two days biking in the countryside just east of Tashkent, where the landscape is dry and scrubby, with views further east of the Tien Shan mountains. Named the “Celestial Mountains” in Chinese, this range forms the rugged border between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and China.
Then we traveled a couple hours toward the Northeast corner of Uzbekistan to a holiday resort area on the shores of the Charvak reservoir. Here we put in two pretty tough days of biking in the Chaktal range of the Tien Shan, with stunning views of both the highest peak in Uzbekistan and the bright blue water of the reservoir.
After a pretty morning on the bikes (Day Four), we returned to Tashkent for a day of sightseeing (and a welcome day off from the bikes) before heading west for more biking adventure. We stopped for a welcome lunch at a lovely restaurant on the way. We had a wonderful table in a cool, beautiful courtyard. There was just one snag. When the main dishes came out — grilled chicken with onions and yogurt — nothing came out for the three vegetarians in our group. This is a culture where grilled meats are supreme, though they usually manage to scrounge something together for the vegetarians.
Meanwhile, Sharon (one of the vegetarians) had been eying the table next to us, where a group of local women were eating together. They had heaps of big red strawberries. And they had delicious-looking thin bread pockets stuffed with cooked greens. We’d had those earlier a couple times, and Sharon eagerly awaited those as the veggie offering. But alas, one of our guides finally announced apologetically that the restaurant simply had nothing to offer the vegetarians. Sharon asked why we couldn’t order the stuffed bread.
It turns out the ladies next door had made those stuffed breads at home and brought them in for their own lunch. Somehow they picked up on our woes and quickly offered Sharon a couple big pieces of their handiwork. When they learned there were a couple more vegetarians, they sent over piles more. Then they sent over a couple heaping bowls of those incredible strawberries for all of us. It was the best possible introduction to Uzbek warmth and hospitality, followed by a fun round of picture taking.